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Why does Denmark go so crazy for New Year’s Eve fireworks?

Danish New Year would not be complete without the spectacular, ear-splitting din of multiple fireworks salvos at the stroke of midnight. But why are fireworks so popular, and should restrictions be considered?

Why does Denmark go so crazy for New Year's Eve fireworks?
Fireworks on sale on December 19th. Photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix

The tradition for shooting in the New Year with fireworks is far from new. Gunpowder is thought to have been lit at New Year as far back as the 17th century, when Copenhagen was under siege by Sweden.

During the siege, which lasted from 1658 from 1660, canons were fired three times from Copenhagen’s fortifications on New Year’s Day in a sign of defiance. In the pause between the canon shots, soldiers and people in the city fired their own weapons.

Later, the bordbombe (‘table bomb’), a small firework which can be used inside to fire out confetti, began to gain popularity in the mid-1900s. It was included in 1942 in the catalogue of upmarket department store Daells Varehus, according to DR.

READ ALSO: Same procedure as last year? How to celebrate New Year’s Eve Danish style

Although the visual element of fireworks is impressive, it is thought that their loud sounds are the original reason for their use. The loud sounds were said to scare evil spirits away from the new year which one was about to enter.

Modern use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve is prolific. According to a Danish Chamber of Commerce estimate, 415 million kroner was spent on bangers, rockets and crackers in 2018. Around 27 percent of people in the country planned to buy fireworks last year, with 7 percent expecting to spend at least 800 kroner.

That plays its part in a busy evening for emergency wards at hospitals throughout the country. DR reported in 2017 that the early hours of that year saw 237 injuries treated at hospitals nationwide, as a result of accidents with fireworks.

The stress caused to animals by fireworks, not to mention their environmental impact, are also elements of the discussion as to whether the tradition is due for an update.

Neighbouring Norway could be looked to as an example in this regard. In 2008, the Norwegian government introduced rules prohibiting firecracker type fireworks with stabilizers, as well as fireworks that look like toys. One reason for the former is the injury risk of long fireworks which can topple over after being placed in bottles or snow and then lit.

Additionally, people in Norway may only purchase fireworks between December 27th and 31st, and may only set them off between 6pm and 2am on New Year’s Eve. In Denmark, they can be purchased from December 15th and set off as early as the 27th.

Overall, this means people in Norway are more likely to attend municipal fireworks displays than their own – a clear contrast to Denmark.

The Norwegian measures resulted in a significant decrease in accident figures, from 155 firework-related injuries in 2007-8 to an average of 58 in subsequent years, according to DSB Norge.

Nevertheless, animal welfare organizations and doctors in Norway are still concerned about their use.

READ ALSO: Should Norway ban fireworks on New Year’s Eve?

Recent days have seen several instances of police intervention following misuse of fireworks, with episodes in Grenaa, Randers and Aarhus, as well incidents in and around Copenhagen.

Left wing political party the Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) has called for restrictions on firework sales reminiscent of those in Norway.

“There should be fewer days during the year in which it’s permitted to light fireworks. And sales should be more controlled. A lot of illegal fireworks are sold in Denmark,” the party’s justice spokesperson Rosa Lund told Ritzau.

“Thirdly, I think we should look at whether there should be specified areas in cities in which fireworks may be set off, so they are under control,” Lund added.

A total ban would not work, Lund also said. But another party, environmentalist group Alternative, has called for just that.

“We want (a ban) for safety reasons and also due to climate considerations,” Alternative justice spokesperson Sikandar Siddique told Ritzau.

A full ban could be temporary until a new model – perhaps municipal displays – is found to replace the current custom, the party suggests.

The governing Social Democrats have said they will consider a change to the rules in the new year but have rejected a full ban.

“Municipalities can implement zonal bans where fireworks may not be set off. We will initially look at whether municipalities are making good enough use of this option,” justice spokesperson Jeppe Bruus said.

“I don’t think we’re ready to ban all of it. It’s part of the traditions we associate with New Year. And it’s perhaps a bit drastic to let a few people ruin that for the rest of us,” he added.

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Are New Year’s fireworks becoming less popular in Denmark?

Denmark has a long tradition of celebrating the New Year with fireworks that stretches as far back as the 17th century. However, a recent poll shows that many Danes want stricter fireworks rules.

Are New Year's fireworks becoming less popular in Denmark?

With New Year’s celebrations right around the corner, fireworks are once again becoming a hot topic in Denmark.

The country is believed to have celebrated New Year with a bang for centuries, as gunpowder was allegedly lit on the occasion as far back as the 17th century when Sweden besieged Copenhagen.

As The Local explained in an earlier article, during the siege, canons were fired three times on New Year’s Day in a sign of resilience and defiance.

Furthermore, in the pause between the canon shots, soldiers and residents in Copenhagen fired their own weapons.

The colourful display of fireworks is a key aspect of the tradition, but the loud noises they produce may have been the initial purpose behind their use. It is believed that the bangs were intended to frighten away evil spirits as people entered a new year.

While many Danes enjoy fireworks, in recent years, calls for stricter fireworks regulations have become more vocal.

Half of Danes want tighter regulations

Fireworks season is underway again – from December 27th (and up to January 1st), it is allowed to set off fireworks in Denmark.

However, half of Danes think that the time period for the legal use of fireworks should be further shortened, according to a survey that Kantar Gallup has carried out for the insurance company Gjensidige.

This is due, among other things, to considerations for pets, the environment, and climate.

“This says a lot about the times we live in, where nature and the environment have gained a much greater focus,” Henrik Sagild at Gjensidige noted in a press release.

Some critics also point to the risk of personal injury. The Danish Safety Technology Authority (Sikkerhedsstyrelsen) has – once again – launched a campaign to encourage the safe use of fireworks.

Last year, 178 people were injured by fireworks – 24 of them seriously. That’s far too many, according to the director of the Fireworks Industry Association, Karsten Nielsen.

At the same time, Nielsen points to the fact that the number of accidents should be viewed in relation to the actual number of fireworks used.

“The Danes light 100 million fuses in connection with celebrating the New Year. Is it (note: 24) a big or a small number (of accidents)? I think it is a relatively small number,” Nielsen added.

Tests carried out

The sale of fireworks in Denmark began on December 15th. Every year, the Safety Authority tests out the fireworks items that come into the market in the run-up to the New Year.

This year’s test shows that even if you buy your fireworks legally, you cannot always expect them to work properly.

In fact, out of 147 different firework items that were tested, one in three was faulty.

According to Nielsen, however, accidents are especially prominent in the use of illegal fireworks.

“It’s just as easy to get hold of as it is to scratch your back. I can send an email this afternoon, and then it will be at my address on Thursday,” he noted.

Nielsen believes that stronger efforts must be made to remove illegal fireworks from the market.